EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Pat Shurmur is midway through his first full season as Vikings Offensive Coordinator, and his positive impact is evident on the field.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman met with Twin Cities media members Wednesday for an annual question-and-answer session, during which he spoke very highly of Shurmur.
"[Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] has stated it numerous times in his press conferences, but Pat has done a great job," Spielman said. "And from where our offense was rated a year ago to where it is right now – the running game has improved, the pass game has improved, he does a great job of changing up the pass protections up front, him and [offensive line coach Tony Sparano]."
Minnesota so far this season ranks 13th in the NFL in yards per game (358.5) and 14th in points per game (22.4). In 2016, the Vikings ranked 28th (315.1) and 23rd (20.4), respectively, in those categories.
Shurmur, who took over as interim offensive coordinator in a year ago today, has faced his fair number of challenges throughout the first eight games of the season, but he's shown that he's able to roll with the punches.
Quarterback Sam Bradford had a career performance for Minnesota in Week 1 but aggravated a knee injury and has since only played in one other game. He played through a majority of the first half at Chicago in Week 5 but was sidelined after re-aggravating the injury.
Stepping in for Bradford was Case Keenum, who has now started six games for the Vikings, who enter the bye week at 6-2 and atop the NFC North.
Spielman credited Shurmur for helping transition smoothly between quarterbacks.
"What Zim' and Pat Shurmur and the offensive staff have done, to not change the system but do some things that are positive and what Case can do well [has been significant]," Spielman said. "That's one great thing, they can identify what our players do well and try to magnify that by what they're calling and how they're managing the game. I think that's a lot of the reason we've had the success to date."
Spielman later re-visited the topic, saying that Shurmur excels at understanding the strength of each signal caller and designing a game plan with that in mind.
Spielman explained that Shurmur is able to change the calls while staying inside his scheme.
"There may be some plays that he wouldn't call for Sam that he would call for Case, or that he wouldn't call for Case that he calls for Sam," Spielman said. "And it's based a lot on what the strength of the quarterback is. But it doesn't affect, you know, 'We're chucking out this scheme and all of a sudden we're putting in a whole new scheme for another quarterback.' There's enough flexibility, I believe, within the system that he can make those adjustments pretty smoothly."
While Shurmur adjusts his play calls according to his own personnel, the coordinator also must game plan each week for Minnesota's upcoming opponent.
According to Spielman, Shurmur's ability to prepare for going against a specific team has enabled the Vikings to succeed offensively.
"[He comes] up with specific ways to beat the team," Spielman said. "He tries to create matchup issues for the defense with some of our offensive personnel."
In addition to adjusting to the quarterback situation, Shurmur has had to adapt to other injuries sustained by Minnesota's offense.
After a strong start to his first year in the pros, running back Dalvin Cook suffered a torn ACL against the Lions in Week 4, sidelining him for the season. Shouldering added responsibility in Cook's absence has been Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, the latter having notched more than 200 rushing yards in the past four games.
Spielman said McKinnon's experience at running back since being drafted by the Vikings in 2014 has increased his comfort level, but he also partially points to Shurmur's system.
"I think this year, with the way Pat's system fits his skill set and his experience at the position, you're starting to see how valuable of a player he can be. And how productive he can be," Spielman said.
Asked by a reporter if he anticipates other teams calling to inquire about Shurmur following the season, Spielman chuckled.
"Oh, geez, I don't know," Spielman said. "Right now we're just worried about Monday's practice.
"That's up to other teams what they think," Spielman added. "But I know how much that Coach Zimmer and we value him here."